Lawmakers Approve Budget for Next Year



State lawmakers have approved a $33.8 billion budget for the next fiscal year, rejecting a move by Democrats to expand Medicaid coverage to an estimated 280,000 low income Tennesseans. The spending bill also slaps the Coffee county school system and six other districts over a legal challenge to state education funding. The bill includes money to build a new state museum in Nashville and renovate, rather than demolish, the Cordell Hull state office building.

Senate and House Passes Gun Bill

Weapons bans in municipal parks in Manchester and Murfreesboro have been nixed by the General Assembly. The Senate and House passed the gun bill yesterday after dropping a provision that would have allowed legal permit holders to pack guns at the State Capitol and Legislative complex. The law continues to ban guns at school events, but doesn’t extend the prohibition to parks and playgrounds used for school activities. Legislation passed in 2009 allowed guns in state parks but included an opt-out provision for cities to ban weapons in municipal parks. Some 70 cities and towns elected to ban weapons. Sponsors say the law will end confusion about where guns are allowed. Despite previous opposition, Governor Bill Haslam is expected to sign the law.

Senate Rejects Tennessee Bible Bill

Tennessee Senators have thumped the Bible bill for this year. The Republican dominated chamber rejected efforts to name the Bible as Tennessee’s official book by a 22-9 margin Thursday. The vote thwarts action in the House, which passed the bill by a wide margin earlier this week. The house sponsor of the Bible push says his intent was to simply recognize the historical significance of the book. Governor Bill Haslam and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey both opposed the Bible bill. Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell voted against the legislation. Attorney General Herb Slatery says passage would violate the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions. Sponsors say they will reintroduce the bill next year.

Tennessee Senate Approves Tuition Equality Proposal

tennessee flag map

Tennessee residents who are authorized to be in the United States would be eligible for in-state tuition under legislation that has passed the Senate.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga was approved 21-12 on Thursday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Finance Committee.

Under the proposal, students considered lawfully present in the U.S. through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would qualify for in-state tuition. Such students now pay nearly three times as much for higher education – the out-of-state rate – even if they’ve lived in Tennessee for most of their lives.

A previous version of the bill didn’t require DACA eligibility to qualify for in-state tuition. Eben Cathey with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition says the restriction means fewer people qualify but believes the legislation is a step in the right direction.

Tenn. House Names Bible as Official State Book

Despite warnings from the State Attorney General and opposition by the Governor and other political leaders, the Tennessee House voted to name the Bible as the official state book Wednesday. The controversial measure passed 55-38. Republican ┬áHouse Speaker Beth Harwell voted against the bill. A total of 20 Republican Lawmakers voted against the Bible bill, which is opposed by Republican Governor Bill Haslam and Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Attorney General Herb Slatery says the bill violates provisions of both the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions. Pastors and rabbis have also spoken out against the effort. Sponsors say naming the Bible as a state symbol along with the tulip popular tree, salamanders, and the raccoon honors the Bible’s role in Tennessee history.

Attorney General Bars Felons From Having Antique Guns

The Tennessee attorney general’s office appears to have changed its position on whether felons and those convicted of domestic violence can legally possess antique guns.

A 2008 opinion issued by then-Attorney General Robert Cooper said felons could lawfully possess the older weapons. However, state law has changed.

The latest opinion by Attorney General Herbert Slatery says violent felony and drug felony offenders cannot possess the antiquated guns using muzzle loaders and black powder, even if they are hunting. But legal experts say the opinion is confusing and appears to limit all felons from using the older guns.

Judge Won’t Order Troubled Virtual School to Stay Open

A judge has refused to issue a temporary injunction that would allow a troubled virtual school to remain open.

Wednesday’s order by Senior Judge Ben Cantrell is the latest setback for the Tennessee Virtual Academy. The state has ordered the school to close at the end of the school year because of poor academic scores.

The families of three children who attend the school filed a lawsuit last month saying Education Commissioner Candice McQueen exceeded her authority when she ordered the school shut down. They had asked Cantrell to issue a temporary injunction to allow the school to stay open.

Kids work at home on their computers at the online school. The school is run by Union County, which contracts with Virginia-based K12 Inc. to provide the curriculum.